Last week, my parents had me speak to my grandmother on the phone. It was awkward in several ways -- I only knew her from one visit my entire life, which was a decade ago; I'm already socially awkward by nature; and I don't speak Cantonese very well. Still, though I fumbled through a few phrases, even I could admit my patchwork attempt was not too bad by any standard.
As my parents drove me home, I told them this story:
Once, I answered the door to find a young man who turned out to be a Christian missionary. I had no interest, but having always been terrible at turning away solicitors, for some reason I wanted to reinvent the wheel instead of simply saying "no thank you" and spent a moment trying to think up some nicety. He took my blank stare to mean something else.
"Do you speak Cantonese?" he asked.
Instinctively, I nodded. Because, well, technically, yes, I did.
Then he began talking.
I'm not sure if he noticed, but another instinct, I hope, helped me hide my dismayed expression. His Cantonese, even to me, was completely unrecognizable, garbled; I could not understand a word he was saying. After taking a second to note that I actually felt a bit impressed, I quickly clarified that I indeed spoke perfect English and that I had thought Cantonese would make him feel more uncomfortable, and finally bid him a swift farewell. My parents were laughing.
I admitted to them that ever since that incident, I had been very self-conscious about my own Cantonese, thinking that I must sound incomprehensible to others. They laughed again and said that even if my "jook-sing" status was readily apparent, I was perfectly understandable.
I thought of this because it was this fear, above others, that always made me demur from speaking to people -- including my grandparents. I confessed to my parents that I was ashamed that I had to pause and think so much, that I didn't want my silences to come off as unhappiness to find myself speaking to my elderly grandmother. They assured me she did not think that.
I'm just remembering now how that same evening, my mother had asked me a question about English vocabulary, and how frustrated I became when she refused to give me any context. My father made an unfortunate attempt to smooth things over by saying that her question was too difficult for me to answer. We ended up arguing and she accused me of having a short temper while I accused both of them of always treating me like I'm stupid when I'm really trying to give them the best of my knowledge.
I've always seen our differences in language as a barrier that separates, rather than something we share ... but clearly we have the same difficulties, even if not in the same language. I guess we do have more in common than I've believed.
The persistent rhetoric is that it's surprise all around that Canadians had this pride in them, that this country is normally so humble, that aw, shucks, it's usually the Americans who are the chest-thumpers, not shy ol' us (pun intended).
Everyone is so deeply sold on this idea that we're modest, we're humble, but the truth is that we're really neither. I certainly haven't seen it; isn't there a rule that when you call yourself humble, you're automatically not?
The reason we've broken out and shouted so loud is because we have finally achieved something solidly and decisively worthy of celebration. Never before have we won so clearly: For the Winter Games, we won the most golds at a single Games in Canadian history, most overall medals at a single Games in Canadian history, and the first gold on Canadian soil at any Games, Winter or Summer, ever, and most golds ever by any Winter host, full stop.
(And we won hockey.)
We accomplished a lot not only by our own standards, but by others, shared by all. We haven't had to redraw or downscale any boundaries to find our wins and victories. We just did it.
So I, for one, am not surprised. We've always had the pride, the noise, this collective shout. We were just waiting for a legitimate excuse to let it out.
You rode by on your bike and when the music began, I looked up, thinking somebody had put on a CD in their car, with the window rolled. But it was you -- you were playing your accordion. It was a pretty tune and almost made me smile; I didn't, well, because I don't, not at strangers.
You had dark hair, a knit hat, and of course, your accordion. I was the girl who wanted to smile at you, and probably the only one who didn't that day.
Just one more thing ... what were you playing?
I've finally discovered my "type": funny, bearded, bespectacled men with young children and beautiful wives whom they undoubtedly love very much.
[crumpling paper] Back to the drawing board.
I would like to believe in the special Hell for people who talk ... and text ... and email ... at the theatre, because on Saturday night, there were some who deserved a one-way ticket -- including you, BB Lady, checking your email for ten freakin' minutes, then leaving it in your hand like some kind of sick security blanket with its FLASHING GREEN LIGHT IN MY EYE ARGH
Not to fucking mention the lady above us who chatted on her phone for so long that my boyfriend had to spin around and ask her to please stop talking. Her clever strategy was not to hear him and continue talking. Later, she had to get something from her plastic shopping bag. I knew, because she rustled it for a good five minutes that a normal cellophane candy wrapper would not need. I hope to God for her sake it was some kind of lifesaving medicine she had misplaced and she was fucking silently asphyxiating from the lack of oxygen that justified her noisy interlude.
And not to fucking mention the man at the right who talked so loudly on his phone that I thought he was only a seat away; turned out he was about half a dozen bodies away. When I craned my neck to look at him, the six people between us had already beat me to it.
I am swearing to myself to write again.
There's a popular legend that the V sign originated with English longbowmen at the Battle of Agincourt during the Hundred Years' War. Because of the proficiency of English archers, the French threatened to cut off their bow fingers. When the English army prevailed (spoiler!), their archers are believed to have raised their two (intact) fingers in a gesture of defiance.
(My favourite part of this story when it's retold is how often there is extensive detail lavished on the unassailable technological prowess of the English longbow. An impressive weapon, definitely, but we've moved on, haven't we? I find indoor plumbing and heating much more amazing, and those technologies still live with us and affect us every day -- hell, Claudian aqueducts still bring water to modern Rome -- while the longbow has been obsolete for centuries.)
The problem with this story is that it doesn't appear in any surviving contemporary accounts. It's a bit frustrating having to cobble a thought from various bits on the internet, but it seems to lean closer towards being a legend or myth rather than verifiable historical fact as often believed.
The closest comes from historian Jean Froissart who, according to Associated Content, did record a story of English soldiers (not necessarily archers) who used finger gestures at the French during a siege -- though he didn't specify which fingers. Without reading Froissart's firsthand account, it's hard to say, but it's possible he could have been referring to the (middle) finger gesture or a form of it, since that has been documented as far back as the 1st-2nd century CE.
There's also the question of whether the French really did threaten to cut off archers' fingers. There are doubts as there are no recorded incidents. However, according to Wiki, historian Juliet Baker quotes an Agincourt soldier as saying that Henry V included a reference to the French cutting off longbowmen's fingers in his pre-battle speech. It's worth noting this doesn't necessarily mean the French themselves actually said anything to the effect -- just that the English believed as much.
(This led me to think ... what if it Henry V made the story up for the sake of riling up his troops? I can only imagine how confused the French were as Englishmen started flashing Vs at them. "Que font-ils? Les Anglais sont si bizarres!")
A seldom-repeated addendum -- only saw it on Wiki -- is that the finger gesture was adapted into a V in honour of Henry V. Dubious. Associated Content points out that Froissart was a major source for Shakespeare, and since the sign is not mentioned in Henry V, it's probably just a coincidence. Moreover, that kind of literal visual connection is fairly rare in etymology -- "looking like" something is usually not a trustworthy qualifier.
(I don't know nearly enough about the subject, but would English archers know enough of Roman numerals -- or in the case of medieval European math, numbers -- to understand the significance of the V? Did they refer to the king as the fifth of Henrys, or merely "King Henry"?)
Although the soldier's account is a solid connection, I mostly feel that the setting of Agincourt is a red (amber?) flag.
First of all, if Froissart is indeed the source of this story, it couldn't have been at Agincourt because Froissart died before it happened. This doesn't mean the story still isn't true, mostly -- details get changed or misremembered all the time.
Second of all, the longbow had been in existence well before; why then? Agincourt was an important victory, so that may explain it.
But this carries to my third point, which is that folk etymologies tend to draw most commonly on broad knowledge -- the vague drabbles of history that everyone sort of knows. A myth or legend is more likely to pick a famous battle because it resonates easily with the most people and it's more sensational. For example, the Associated Content article also mentions the longbow's decisive edge at the lesser-known battles of Crecy and Poitiers. As I said, it's very possible that Agincourt, being the third major victory for the longbow, simply provided the greatest impetus. But it seems just a tad too convenient.
Finally, this isn't the fault of the historical story (if it is historical), but the Agincourt story has been rehashed for various purposes -- to explain the origin of the middle finger salute and to explain the origin of the phrase "fuck you." (Look it up.) Both are total nonsense and end up casting an unfortunate suspicious light upon the V sign aspect of the Agincourt tale.
Of my lady friends who dressed up for Halloween, these were costumed thusly:
- One slutty wench
- Two slutty prostitutes (redundant, perhaps)
- One Little Red Riding Hood (... slutty)
The friend/wench exclaimed over how swiftly I had identified her dress; everyone she met, upon seeing her pink-red bodice and mini-shift, thought she was Snow White (???). Hey, what can I say. I've been to a ren faire or two in my lifetime.
Me? 1950s aviator -- leather jacket, baggy trousers tucked into boots, scarf, rabbit fur hat, and kickass goggles, real artefacts from mid-century Russia.
Slutty? Sadly, not really (not until I had a few drinks, at least).
[11:54] Halcyon: when little red riding hood dresses sexy, is it for the woodcutter, or the wolf?
[11:55] G.: or her grandma?
[11:55] G.: she's going to visit her, after all
[11:55] Halcyon: good point
[11:55] G.: the wolf and woodcutter are incidentals
[11:55] Halcyon: maybe they have a very close family
2. As "Americana" defines itself as artefacts of American culture, "Gloriana" consists of the artefacts of my culture.
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